Saturday, December 31, 2016

12 of 2eLLLve. Out With the Old,In With the New.

Like many people across the globe, I am ringing in New Years with best hopes to make the coming year my best yet.  While there are numerous things that will always be challenges for me, my optimism for the future is unbridled.  Why? Because I believe my life is primarily within my control.  And I’m both motivated and hopeful for good things.  Positive attitude doesn’t solve every woe, but it sure does help.

As the year comes to an end, I’m closing out my year of learning with one big summary.  As I hoped and worked towards, I developed some new skills this year for sure. More than actual skill building, however, I embraced my need for “continuous learning” to the extent that I feel like I’m ending 2016 even better off than I entered it.  Given the theme of this blog was TweLLLve (12 months, with LLL symbolizing Life Long Learning), here’s my countdown of my top 12 learnings for the year. 

I had numerous opportunities from a work perspective to strengthen my voice and point of view, and share that with others.  Through a weekly blog on VentureFizz and LinkedIn, I embraced the fact that it’s not arrogant to share the knowledge and experience I’ve collected over my career; rather it’s appreciated and valued by others attempting to figure it out similar people challenges.  Along the way, I made some connections and formed new business relationships.  I challenged myself to deeply think through my points of view on topics.  And most importantly, I learned to hone in on my slightly humorous/always authentic voice.  While that’s the only way I know how to share, not everyone communicates that way. Who would have ever guessed being yourself would be notable?

I learned to let go of a former life and not feel bad about it anymore.  Several years have now past since my divorce, and my ex has moved on with a new wife, a new baby, and a new life.  Am I resentful or jealous?  Definitely not.  Why?  Because I have a fresh start.  I have had the opportunity to meet new people.  I have the opportunity to fall in love again. I have the opportunity to live anywhere when my kids go off to school.  I have the opportunity to create the life I want to live.  Thus, I will embrace and cherish the next 4 ½ years I have until both my kids are off to school, and then I will revel in the next step.  That, and when I’m off exploring that new future, he’ll be at a kindergarten play.  #winning J

Nothing like a trip to the hospital to test your independence.  When I was down and out recently, my kids and special friends came to the rescue.  I know if I had been by myself, I wouldn’t have told anyone or asked for help.  And yet my kids sprang into action and took control into their own hands.  Thus, I learned a big lesson about people pulling together when needed, and I felt exceptionally loved as a result.  I know I would do it for anyone, so when I need it, it’s okay to ask for help. 

From sitting in the passenger seat while my daughter learns to drive and doing my best to calmly provide guidance to making some tough decisions at work, focusing on my patience has been a key learning.  I’m someone who leans to impulsiveness and quick action.  And yet, sometimes, taking a deep breath and thinking things through so the long-term benefit outweighs the short term is warranted.  I’m not in control of every decision, and sometimes the best I can do is guide others to get there.  It’s hard for me.  And yet, when I take the time to do it, it almost always has a good outcome. 

Almost everyone learns their biggest lessons through trial and error.  Parenting is no exception.  There is no rule book, and we are all essentially making it up as we go along.  This year when my daughters experienced a first heartbreak, a new baby sister, and a challenging teacher, there was no formula to follow. I just did as I would want done for me; provide a support system, encouragement, and perspective. And of course, the wisdom that whatever it is, we’ll get through it – together.

I moved about two years ago, hoping to both shed the past and create more ease of lifestyle at the same time.  In doing so, I chose a house that is perfect for the three of us right now, but is far from my “dream house.”  As a result, my attitude sucked about it, and I treated it as a temporary dwelling. Until I woke up one morning and realized, why not make it as nice as I possibility can, regardless of how long I’m there.  I got some help, changed it up, and love the new look. Then I turned around and did the same thing to my office at work.  Gone are standard features; I filled it with a couch, a smaller desk and it’s a hell of a lot more inviting and functional.   I learned to make the most of wherever I am, even if it’s relatively short term.    

Asking for help is one thing. Being in introvert also means I need to push myself to get out there and spend time with others.  I have friends that are constantly surrounded by others, and they thrive in that environment.  I certainly love people, but in smaller doses.  And that’s ok – we are all different.  However, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how independent you are, we all need others in our corner cheering us on and sharing our “stuff” with.  I sure try to do that for others, and I need it too. 

I don’t do well with obligations.  I want to be motivated to want to do something, not be told I have to or feel guilted into it.  I spent years trying to do things I thought were going to please my parents or former bosses for example.  Those days are over.  Of course, there are all things we do in our lives that might not be at the top of the choice list, but I’ve learned saying no sometimes and coming up with an alternative solution to better accommodate me AND them is truly freeing.

I am not very good at sitting still.  Historically when I’ve been at home watching tv, I will have my laptop open or working on some sort of project…multitasking makes me not feel so guilty for doing otherwise “lazy” activities.  Vacations have historically been about seeing and experiencing as much as we can.  And yet, we sit in Puerto Rico this week doing precious little other than reading and lying in the sun.  And it is glorious.  Lesson learned: sometimes just taking both a physical and mental break is incredibly restorative. 

 I love nice things.  I don’t need them to be happy, but nothing like theatre tickets or a new purse to put a smile on my face.   And yet, you know what’s even better?  Being able to buy John, the Vietnam Vet who hangs out in front of Dunkin Donuts by my office a cup of coffee in the morning.  Or sharing laughs with my kids over dinner after a long day.  Money buys a lot, but it doesn’t buy a happy soul.  This year I learned a lot about spending more time being really happy for the small wonders in my life.   

I meet tons of people.  Having interviewed thousands of people over the years, I have become fairly adept at getting a read on them fairly quickly.  While I remain confident this initial read is disturbingly accurate, it’s also incomplete.  Everyone has a story, and it takes more than just a few minutes to truly know a person.  I absolutely love getting to know what people and what makes them unique; and when we keep an open mind, it is incredible how much we learn from each other’s experiences.

I wrote an article for work a week ago summing up lessons learned in 2016 from my business life.  As part of it, I referenced a quote from Shonda Rhimes, amazing creator of shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal. She recently published a book called “Year of Yes.” Apparently, unlike most us who fancy the word “No!” when approached with a difficult request, she spent considerable effort saying “yes” to expand her horizons. One of the lines that resonated most with me? “Don’t call me lucky. Call me a badass.” She’s right. It’s not luck. It’s hard work. When you put in the blood, sweat, and commitment for everything you achieve, you are not lucky. I’m kind a badass. 

I learned a ton this year, and I’m betting you did to.  Yes, I learned some new skills, and maybe got a little more knowledge in some areas.  My biggest learnings, however, when I paid attention, had an open mind and heart, and embraced time and lessons learned from the wisdom of others. 

I loved 2016.  And yet, I’m fairly convinced 2017 is going to be even better…because I will work hard to make it so.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

11 of 2eLLLve. Coming Out of the Closet.

When I tell people I am an shy, they look at me like I'm nuts.  They know me from work, and they see me joking around in front of a group of people, or comfortable in front of a room.  One on one, I'm perfectly fine.  

When at work, I'm typically partnering with someone on a common goal, or helping sort through a problem.  Most of the time, these situations are personal (a career challenge, a team issue, etc) so it allows me to ask some probing questions so I can understand the person better to aid in solving their dilemma.  In my personal life, I tend to surround myself with people I have known for a long time, and we have shared history to build from.  

A cocktail party, however, might be the most uncomfortable situation you can put me in.  

The month of November was spent at work trying to power through work as normal, but also attending a variety of family and work related events that put this uneasiness to the test.  I've got enough social graces to power through and do my best to be friendly and engaging.  However, I remain constantly in awe of those people who can walk into a room and just start talking to strangers.  I can do it...I just don't want to.  And sometimes, you just have to.

One example came at an end of season banquet  this month for one of my daughters.  I was grateful to run into an old friend, and was fortunate enough to grab a seat at her table where I knew no one else.  I did my best to chat and make small talk with this table full of lovely women, but it became clear - on the surface at least - we didn't share much in common other than the fact we had kids who shared a sport.  One woman at my table was dressed beautifully, complete with hair and makeup.  I stupidly made the assumption she had come from work, and thought that would be a decent opener.  Turns out, she doesn't; she just decided to use this banquet as a reason to get dressed up.  Very dressed up.  Apparently, so did most of the other moms in the room.  I was wearing jeans and 14 hour old mascara.  Candidly, I still I was the most appropriately dressed for the occasion.  

After that first attempt at chit chat fizzled with one mom, I started conversing with another in the buffet line.  Started easily enough, until she quickly said, "Oh my god, don't look...that's X's ex-husband!! We hate him."   I looked at her and tried to process.  I had no idea who X was, and who the "we" was that she was referring to.  I gazed at the nicely dressed guy and would have loved to be in a situation to ask more.  That's how I connect with people; ask questions, learn stories.  You can't just drop stuff like that on me as a throw away comment and then expect me to go back to the salad.

A similar thing happened at the Thanksgiving dinner table.  My girls and I headed down to Florida to share the holiday with my parents.  We were joined by some of my father's side of the family, as well as the family of my mom's good friend.  My parents put together a lovely spread; fantastic food and a home filled with warmth and love.  And yet, I was surrounded by people I didn't know particularly well.  My dad's sister and her family are wonderful people; I just didn't grow up with them.  We lived a far distance away, and have only come to know each other through family events (funerals, weddings) over our adult life.  Of course we have family matters to connect over, but otherwise, we are virtually starting from scratch with each other.  

But I tried. 

I busied myself with helping in the kitchen, hiding a bit from the overwhelming number of people standing outside playing catch up.  One of my cousins helped me, and we had an easy time chatting about our kids.  Of course, it stays fairly surface level, as I just didn't want to probe too deeply on things; we just don't know each other that well.  It was a fun day, followed by everyone sitting around the fire pit sharing stories at the end of the evening.  That can be such a fun experience when you are with friends and family you know well enough to tease and laugh along with.  For me, listening to people's stories when you don't know them well enough to participate just leaves me feeling awkward.   It's really hard to laugh along when I really want to say, "Seriously?!  There is no way that can be true!"  So I just tend to go quiet and try to be polite. 

So this month, through a series of social and professional events, I tried to take a different approach.  I attempted to spend less time hiding in a closet making the Thanksgiving mashed potatoes (Yes, that happened.  Not my choice.) and more time attempting to get out there and be friendly.  Did I do it?  Yes.  Was it uncomfortable?  Yes.  Did I go over the line with too many questions?  Potentially.  And yet, somehow, it seemed to work. 

Life is just more fun - for me at least - when I connect with people.  I will never be the girl who enters a room and immediately wants to talk to everyone she's never met just to expand my network.  And yet, when I make the effort to go out of my comfort zone and get to know people, rarely is it an epic fail.  Perhaps other people feel just as weird...and maybe that's why alcohol flows so freely at events.  Not being a big drinker, I don't rely on that as my crutch.  I just have to suck it up, get out there, and start with a "Hi, I'm Christina."  

And I'll do my best to keep my probing questions to a minimum. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

10 of 2eLLLve. I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends.

Two weeks ago, I was in the hospital.  If it wasn't for my daughters, I likely wouldn't have told anyone. 

I got up very early on a Saturday morning.  I let my dog out in the front yard, felt very dizzy, and proceeded to collapse in the front yard.  In stood back up, wobbled to the house, and proceeded for vomit for the next twenty four hours.  I assumed I had the flu. 

My symptoms got worse throughout the day, to the point where Chiara and her newly minted driver's permit had to drive me to urgent care.  "You've got vertigo.  It should only last a few days, but there's nothing to worry about. But you can't get dehydrated.  If the vomiting persists, get yourself to the ER."   Ok, I can handle that.  But what the heck is vertigo?  I had only heard of it as the title of a popular Hitchcock movie.

noun:a sensation of whirling and loss of balance, associated particularly with looking down from a great height, or caused by disease affecting the inner ear or the vestibular nerve; giddiness.
Or, another of explaining is like having severe bed spins without the drinking that caused it. And giddiness?  Yeah, there was nothing giddy about this.   
I stayed in bed with my eyes closed, knowing that every time I opened them, the room would spin and I would have my head in a bucket again.  My kids begged me to go to the hospital, and I fought them.  It was now Saturday night; I didn't want to be sick in a local hospital surrounded by gun shot wounds and drunks with my kids.  So I stayed in bed.  I didn't make it through the night.  
I asked the kids calmly to pack some snacks, some school work, and let the dog out.  Then to call for the ambulance.  They couldn't get the gurney through my bedroom door, so they strapped me into a wheelchair.  In that sixty seconds it took to get to the flashing rig in my driveway, I remember joking with the kids between vomiting.  They looked scared, and I wanted to assure them I'd be ok. 

We checked in, and Chiara started texting everyone with the news.  My mom.  My friends. Her friends.  Gia was documenting the emergency room on Snapchat.  I began to get stressed out, in addition to sick.  I am not very good at asking for help.  To have someone else asking for help on my behalf almost put me over the edge. 

Within an hour of arrival,  things started happening. Tests were run, and IVs and medication were administered.  The doctor suggested I had a fairly severe case of vertigo, as I wasn't responding to the medicine.  She ordered an EKG, a CAT scan and an MRI.  One concern was given my headache history paired with consistent vertigo (apparently it typically isn't constant - it comes and goes), there was concern I might have had a stroke.  Hearing that, I began to worry. 

One of my dearest friends showed up to take the kids and look after them. Her husband came later and sat with me while I got the MRI.  Another friend offered to take the girls overnight and bring them to school the next day.  Yet another special friend came to the hospital that night to sit with me until I was released.  He filled my prescriptions, and tucked me into bed.  And then I was alone again.

Here's what I learned in October.  I've always had a hard time asking for help.  It's not that I think it's a weak thing to do; it's that I never want to be a burden to people.  "My people" all had other stuff going on that weekend that got altered because I was in need.  I didn't want my parents worrying, or my friends interrupting their lives.  And yet, if there was ever a time to do that, now was the time.  And they were there for us.  Just as I know I would be for them.  

It is hard to be by myself sometimes.  Had I still been married, I would have had my husband to rely on while I tended to my illness.  And yet, that's not my reality anymore.  When things go wrong, I have to ask for help.  I am now grateful Chiara reached out to a broad group.  Everyone she spoke to was happy to pitch in; and that allowed me to focus on getting better and not worry about how my kids would eat. 

October was an incredibly humbling month.  While I had started the month focused on  something completely different for my "learning for the month," the biggest education came in the dramatic form of a trip to the hospital, and the days spent in bed afterwards recovering.  I needed my friends, and I needed my team at work to get through it.  They were happy to help.  And I was blessed to have them all to rely on.  

Sometimes, I supposed we need to be humbled into learning.  I wish my journey to that conclusion hadn't come in the form of such pain, but I am truly grateful for it - and to everyone who helped us. 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

9 of 2eLLLve. The Grass in my Own Yard is Plenty Green.

When I was a child, nothing made me happier than the thought of back to school shopping each fall. Far more than the new pair of Nike Cortez kicks and dark blue Levi's, I absolutely loved the pristine notebooks and pencils I was fortunate enough to fill my backpack with.  For me, the start of a new school represented a fresh start.  

I entered 2016 with a similar approach; new year, new lessons to learn.  I split up the year by months, and have attempted to learn something new during each.  Some months it's been a new skill, and more often than not, it's been about learning new perspective.  Not going to lie; those months where I don't have a measurable result because I've tried a new way to think about a problem are largely unsatisfying.  Technically, I know I have challenged myself in a new way, but without a way to quantify success, it can be pretty frustrating.  September was one of those months.  

I made the decision to stay in my current job at the beginning of this year.  It was a tough one to make in some ways; I know myself well enough to appreciate when it is time to walk away.  I am a builder; I love creating something from scratch.  And yet, I have stayed for the people.  I work with an exceptional CEO.  I partner with an incredible talented team of nice people.  And I get to be create on some pretty interesting, disruptive stuff.  As jobs go, I am more than fortunate.  

And yet, I needed more.  To stay in that role for another year or two, I needed to find a different way to approach it and keep it fresh.  I created time - typically in the early hours of the morning to interact with my field in a new way.  All year I've been posting articles on a weekly basis, which has challenged both my creativity and perspective on work and people matters.  I've become more public in those views, and participated in a number of panel discussions.  It's been gratifying to share what I know about corporate culture with others who care about it too.  And yet, I still needed more. 

I found a decent solution by doing some side advisor work with a few companies.  While I can't fathom walking into someone else's company full time at this point, it is fun to counsel other CEOs and teams on what I've learned over the years, and how it may or may not work in their own environments.  By doing so, I've learned two important lessons.  

For one, I have always claimed to be a start up junkie.  This past year working with a few other companies has solidified that thought.  For me, there is a no ego boost that comes from working at a publicly traded company or having a sizable team.  I'm far more motivated by the problems I'm getting to solve, and the challenge that comes with a new way of doing things.  I'm able to keep pushing those boundaries in my current job, which is largely what's keeping me passionate about being there. 

Secondly, I learned that the grass isn't always greener.  Every job is frustrating, and there are always going to aspects of it that drive us a little crazy.  And yet, in working with other CEOs and other teams - awesome as they might be - I truly appreciate MY team even more.  When you work with a team of standouts, and everyone is grabbing a shovel and bringing their best attitude and work, it's pretty hard to consider it's better somewhere else. 

So yes, this past month has been very interesting in terms of helping some other companies think through their work.  I've made some new friends, and challenged my own thinking along the way.  That said, the biggest lesson learned in September is that I'm extraordinarily grateful for what I've got right in front of me. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

8 of 2eLLLve. It Might be Hot Out, but I am Chill. (sort of)

I've always loved August.  When done right, August has represented that I had already powered through the first half of the summer, and still had a month to go before a new school year kicked in.  Whether it was for me as the student, or years later for my children, I have always loved that juxtaposition of balancing a few weeks left of sun and fun with the anticipation of a new school year.  Aside from the geeky delight that comes with the purchase of crisp new notebooks and spotless new sneakers, it's the fresh start to a new year that really appeals to me.  Forget January 1st; New Year really falls on the first day of school for me.  It's the fresh start and new beginning I always thrive on.

I entered 2016 with a commitment to learning one significant each month.  So far, I've held myself accountable, and I've been excited about my new knowledge in a few areas.  And yet, as August approached, I wanted to challenge myself with something totally foreign to me.  I wanted to learn to chill out.

I have a house at the Cape.  I've enjoyed being down there nearly every weekend since Memorial Day, and it has become a small oasis for enjoying friends and family away from the daily reality of our lives.  And yet, I never once showed up there without my computer and bag of work in tow, ready to crank through something if there was downtime.  August, I decided, would be the month I would change this dynamic.

When I was married, E and I would sit on the couch at night, after a long day of work and tending to two young kids, and flip on the tv.  He used to make fun of me for not being able to just relax; I could not sit still on a couch without either checking email, picking up some knitting needles (yup, I knit) or something else to keep me feeling productive.  As anyone who has to sit with me in a meeting can attest to, I still find it near impossible to just focus on one thing at once.  And yes, I appreciate how annoying that is for people around me.

So in August, I decided to make an attempt to knock it off.

Candidly, I wasn't very good at it.   For example, I've always been good with my kids about "no technology at the table" to maximize our opportunity to catch up and connect with each other.  However, once post dinner time hits, they will bury their heads in their phones and catch up with friends.  In turn, I would reach for my phone and computer and start catching up on email or finishing up work I hadn't finished during the day.   So I decided to start plugging my phone in on the counter when I got home, and then leaving it there.  Of course, I'd check it quickly once or twice, but it rarely came with me into the family room.  I instead tied to focus on whatever I was doing - playing a game with the kids, watching a tv show with them, or even just folding laundry while chatting.  As a result, I noticed my daughters began to put their phones away a little more.  As much as they live on Snapchat, a simple, "Hey, anyone want to play a game?" resulted in more time spent together.  That's a big win.

We kayaked every weekend, and I read a number of books.  I signed up to take a screenwriting class, as well as enrolled in a coaching program.  I began to help another company as a side project just to learn more about scaling my own company.  In other words, I actually got a lot done this past month.  The biggest change - and ultimately biggest learning - was the approach.  I ditched the "I need to finish this book tonight" or "I will draft this by 7 am tomorrow morning" pressures that are almost always self imposed and rather attempted to just immerse myself in the activity itself.  If it gets finished, fantastic.  If it doesn't, it will be there tomorrow.  I know me.  It will always get done.  I just learned to take some of the pressure off.

Guess what?  It works.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

7 of 2eLLLve. Learning to be a Bad Mom.

Like many women, I rushed to the movie theatre the other night with my girlfriends, eager to see the highly anticipated “Bad Moms.”  While it wasn’t the next great Oscar contender, it sure resonated with all of us.  Why?  Whether you are a mom or not, it’s relatable.

The premise of the movie is to suggest that hard as we try, none of us are perfect.  When we have those moments of imperfection, we are often judged and considered “bad” at that which we set out to do.  Striving to do our best is different than attempting to achieve an unrealistic standard in our lives unilaterally.  I've dumbed it down to two things to overcome this:  prioritization and confidence.  I spent this past month trying to learn how do exactly this.  

Whether you are a mom, a dad, a pet owner or just have a life outside of work, so many of our existences are filled with things we have to do, as well as the things we want to do.  When you partner all of those things with a drive to give your very best at everything, you’re looking at mental and physical burnout. 

I've learned the trick is to determine what truly matters to me.  I've learned if I give my best efforts to those things, everything else needs to take a lower priority.  For example, I’m a single working mom.  I quickly learned after my divorce that if I wanted to be home at night to make dinner for my daughters and spend some quality time catching up with them in the evening, I had to prioritize the choice to hit the office at the crack of dawn so I could use that quiet block as a “get my work done” time.  Not going to lie; it’s not fun when the alarm goes off early and I’m at my desk by 6:30 am.  However, the prioritized time I get on the back end to achieve my mission of spending that time with my kids is invaluable.

This past month, I connected with other people trying to do this as well, to see how they make it work.  Those with balance appear to edit their schedules to prioritize to what works for them.  Some trade their lunch break for the gym, as health is important to them.  Some listen to podcasts during their commute so they can fuel their brains with new things.  The point is, we are all individuals, with things that are important to each us.

Last year, I thought I was going to enter 2016 by being in a totally different place career wise.  I decided to stay in my current role for a variety of reasons.  However, the one big caveat was that I had to do it a little differently so I could approach my work and life with a new lens, and accomplish some of the other things on my "list" that were important to me.   And then I had to have the confidence and energy to go make it happen.  

I started by figuring out what my want to do and need to do priorities were.  Then I looked to prune them, prioritize them, and outsource as necessary.  My kids joke about "our staff", but having a reliable sitter who can shuttle the kids to their activities, a cleaning person who saves me hours I can reallocate and a dog walker who can ensure my dog gets a great long walk in every day aren't just time savers - they are part of a grand plan to ensure my life is in sync and I'm getting to accomplish "the important stuff" to the best of my ability.  

This month, I took a good hard look at how the first half of the year has gone.  I reviewed my calendar, and took a pulse check on what was going well, and what I needed to tweak to ensure I was achieving - and what I wasn't.  With the help of a little prioritization, I have taken the pressure off of some of the items; they just aren't that critical to ace.  However, I've put more attention on some of the things I realized were bigger priorities, and am now spending a little extra energy on those things. 

Whether you are a parent, a recent college grad, or anyone in between, we all have jam packed lives and often do our very best to live them to the best of our abilities.  However, when we can prioritize and determine what’s truly important – and then create alternatives to how to take a little pressure off those that don’t require our very best effort - we make our lives significantly more manageable.  If that’s truly what we call being a “bad mom,”  I’m working on perfecting being the worst.